Off The Beaten Path: Algeria

Algerian wine today is dying, almost dead completely in fact.

There is an initiative to try and revitalize the Algerian wine industry, but to date, it hasn’t affected any revitalization or change, yet with time, that might change.

This isn’t to say wine is not made in Algeria today, it is, just in very limited amounts at varying degrees of quality.  Currently Rhône red varieties are planted and produced in Algeria.  The bulk of grape growth in the country today is for agricultural purposes (table grapes), not winemaking.

The real reason for touching on Algeria isn’t their modern day wine production, but what they have offered historically to the world of wine.

Influenced by nearby Carthage, and under settlement by the Phoenicians, the roots of winemaking began in Algeria continuing through the Romans until the Muslim conquest when winemaking was stifled under Islam.  In the 1800s under the French rule land under vine increased substantially and durring the phylloxera epidemic in Europe, Algerian wine was exported to France to supply the demand.  Germans took note of the potential of Algeria and moved winemaking there as well, bringing with them more modern techniques.  Post-phylloxera French winemaking still saw Algerian wine imported to use in areas like the Languedoc for blending to increase wine colors and heighten alcohol percentages.  By the early to mid 1900s Algerian wine alongside Tunisian and Moroccan wine saw such growth that they collectively dominated the imported international wine markets, holding roughly 2/3 of the volume traded.  Sadly, the 1960s started the inevitable decline of the wine industry when Algeria was granted independence and the French not only moved out (leaving quite the void in the industry), but also limited their importation of Algerian wines to France.  By the 1970s Russia was buying the bulk of the market production well below market value, and the Islamic leaders in Algeria decided to not be so dependent financially on alcohol markets and persuaded farmers to shift to table grapes and grains with the land under vine.

And thus, Algerian wine today is dying…

If you happen to be in China, Germany, or France your chances are much higher to find Algerian wine today, and outside of the internet, there isn’t any way to get these wines domestically in the US that we are aware of.  YOU can change this.  There is a desire and initiative in Algeria to increase its presence in the wine world again, but they cannot do it alone.  It requires you pestering your local shop, restaurants, wine snobs, whomever that can make a change, by requesting Algerian wine.  If we don’t speak up and request it, no one will know we want it.  A silent want is a scream to deaf ears.  The aforementioned industry professionals are not deaf, and they are outspoken to their contacts, so speak up!